In the fifth plague, God strikes the livestock of Egypt. However, as Numbers 33:4 tells us, God was also striking at the Egyptian gods. There were many gods and goddesses represented by various forms of livestock. Foremmost among them is Apis (pictured here), a bull-god who represented vitality and life (Currid, pg. 192). Currid also lists Buchis, Mneuis, Isis, Hathor, and even Ptah and Ra as gods and goddesses which were occasionaly, or even normally represented by various forms of livestock. It comes as no surprise then, when the Israelites first go astray in the wilderness, that their idolatry takes the form of a golden calf (Ryken, pg. 263). They were doing what they already knew: and Egyptian solution to their problems. Ryken also notes that Apis represented sexual prowess, and Hathor (a goddess) represented female glamor (pg. 264). We worship these same gods and goddesses today in our sex-crazed culture. They are empty of meaning, since they divorce sex from God and from relationship, and from its proper place in marriage.
Notice the addition of “God of the Hebrews,” a quick reminder to Pharaoh of the identity of the God whom he is fighting (Currid, pg. 191). This God of the Hebrews is ratcheting up the severity of the plagues in this fifth plague. Not only is it now an attack on life itself (Enns, pp. 215-216), but also it is now the hand of Yahweh, not just the finger (as in 8:19), which is involved (Currid, pg. 192). This, of course, does not imply that Yahweh had to use any more effort to strike the Egyptians. Rather, it means that the severity of the plague is increasing. Lastly, the plague is just as heavy as Pharaoh’s heart. The word used in verse 3 is the same as that used to describe Pharaoh’s heart: the punishment fits the crime (Currid, pg. 193).
One difficulty this text raises is the identity of the “all” in verse 6: did every last one of the Egyptian livestock die? If they did, then how could there be any livestock to suffer in the plague of hail, which Scripture plainly says there were (9:19)? I like Currid’s and Ryken’s explanation the best. Currid notes that the word “all” can often mean “all kinds” of livestock, rather than every single one. Furthermore, the livestock described here is specifically that of “the field” (verse 3): they had been put to pasture. Thus the livestock closer to home had not been affected.
Pharaoh notices that a distinction between Egypt and Israel has been made. He sends out his agricultural agents (though he will not send out the Israelites). The remarkable thing, as Durham notes, is that, although Pharaoh is faced with the knowledge of the Lord’s hand against him, but not against the Israelites, and has proof of such a distinction, he will still not give God the glory. This proves that it doesn’t matter how much evidence an unbeliever can face with regard to the claims of the Gospel: with an unbelieving heart, they will still reject such knowledge. May we not.